Global Health

They're Calling This Vaccine A 'Stunning Success'

23 hours ago

A newly developed vaccine is on track to conquer a disease that, in recent years, has killed, deafened or caused brain damage in tens of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2010, 220 million people have been vaccinated against meningitis A in what's called the "meningitis belt," 26 countries stretching from Senegal and Mauritania to Ethiopia and Kenya.

The World Health Organization made an announcement Monday that's likely to come as a blow to anyone whose favorite outdoor snack is a hot dog.

Processed meats — yes, hot dogs, plus sausage, ham, even turkey bacon — are cancer-causing, a committee of scientists with WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded. And it classified red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Polio is in its final days.

The disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of kids a year around the globe is now down to just a few dozen cases this year. "We are aiming to halt all transmission of wild polio virus next year," says Peter Crowley, the head of UNICEF's global efforts against polio.

If polio is stopped, it will be only the second human disease to be eliminated. Smallpox was the first — the last case was in 1977.

This is a story about two people sharing one body. Maybe even three people. Or four.

Back in the late 19th century, a German scientist named Georg Schmorl made a remarkable discovery: Cells from a baby can hide out in a mother's body, after birth.

Sometime around 1907, well before the modern randomized clinical trial was routine, American psychiatrist Henry Cotton began removing decaying teeth from his patients in hopes of curing their mental disorders. If that didn't work, he moved on to more invasive excisions: tonsils, testicles, ovaries and, in some cases, colons.

So It Turns Out There's A Lot We Don't Know About Ebola

Oct 17, 2015

"If there's anything that this outbreak has taught me, it's that I'm often wrong," says Dr. Daniel Bausch.

He's talking about Ebola. He's one of the world's leading experts on the virus — an infectious disease specialist at Tulane University and a senior consultant to the World Health Organization.

And as he makes clear, he's still got a lot to learn.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

A new analysis of data from Fukushima suggests children exposed to the March 2011 nuclear accident may be developing thyroid cancer at an elevated rate.

But independent experts say that the study, published in the journal Epidemiology, has numerous shortcomings and does not prove a link between the accident and cancer.

Scott Applewhite / AP

The president of Liberia thanked Seattle-area philanthropists at a weekend appearance in Bellevue, crediting their early support during the Ebola crisis with helping to save many lives.

Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cited support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others as crucial in helping Liberia eradicate Ebola. The Allen Foundation committed $100 million, while the Gates Foundation pledged $50 million.

Almost every American will experience an error in diagnosis at some point in life. But the problem has taken a back seat to other patient safety concerns, an influential panel said in a report released Tuesday.

The report from a blue-ribbon panel of the Institute of Medicine called for widespread changes in health care to improve diagnoses.

When Portland resident Doris Keene raised her four children, she walked everywhere and stayed active. But when she turned 59, she says, everything fell apart.

"My leg started bothering me. First it was my knees." She ignored the pain, and thinks now it was her sciatic nerve acting up, all along. "I just tried to deal with it," Keene says.

The Lasker Award, given for outstanding contributions to medicine and medical research, is sometimes referred to as "America's Nobel Prize." Since the award was established in 1945, more than 80 laureates have gone on to win the Nobel.

The medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is one of four recipients this year, accepting the award for its contributions to the fight against Ebola. I spoke with the president of the U.S. Board of Directors, Dr. Deane Marchbein, who was in New York for the presentation.

Last year's flu vaccine didn't work very well. This year's version should do a much better job protecting people against the flu, federal health officials said Thursday.

An analysis of the most common strains of flu virus that are circulating in the United States and elsewhere found they match the strains included in this year's vaccine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Each year for the past six years, Bill and Melinda Gates have written a letter about how their foundation is trying to make the world a better place, how they're trying to improve health and education and end poverty. Their 2015 letter was published Wednesday on the foundation's blog. (Note: The Gates Foundation is a supporter of NPR.)

Cynthia Goldsmith / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation / via Flickr

Even as momentum builds for an Ebola vaccine, researchers working to contain another virus say they’ve gotten their first big break in years. An older HIV vaccine candidate is showing new promise, and Seattle scientists will be leading a new trial of it early next year.

Jerome Delay / AP Photo

As the Ebola outbreak first emerged in West Africa, some global health experts downplayed it. The virus has flared up here and there since it was discovered in the 1970s, and rarely has its death toll exceeded a few dozen or at most a few hundred.

“I actually was among those who didn’t think it would be that big a deal, and like the previous ones, it would be contained and would burn itself out very quickly,” said Tom Paulson, who has been covering global health for nearly 20 years. “I was dead wrong.”

Paulson, the founder and editor of Humanosphere, sat down with KPLU to talk about why he’s changed his mind and come to see Ebola in Africa as a major menace.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle has agreed to consider accepting Americans infected with Ebola who have been evacuated from Africa. It’s just the fifth hospital in the United States to do so.

UW Medicine, which operates Harborview, said the decision would be based on whether the hospital has capacity at the time. Dr. Timothy Dellit said the hospital’s normal infection controls and a heightened awareness of patients’ travel history will help minimize any risk to health workers or the public.


A Seattle scientist is helping piece together the history of the HIV pandemic, and the new findings on when and where the pandemic began are helping explain how infectious diseases go global.


The planet could be much more crowded by the end of the century than previously thought, according to a new report by University of Washington researchers.

That contradicts a general consensus that world population growth is likely to stabilize before long. The population has been expected to rise from the current seven billion or so to about nine billion, before leveling off and possibly declining.

But new projections, based on new statistical models, suggest the numbers will not tail off after all. Instead, statistician and sociologist Adrian Raftery said we could hit 11 billion and counting by century’s end.

Abbas Dulleh
AP Photo

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says it will spend $50 million to support emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, in addition to the $10 million the foundation has already committed.

In an announcement Wednesday, the Seattle-based foundation said the money will go to the United Nations and international organizations involved in fighting transmission of the virus.

The head of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Michael Murphy, says the agency is making progress in getting veterans in to see a primary care doctor, but he says there’s still a lot more work to do to improve care for veterans in this region. 

Chugrad McAndrews of Seattle / "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press.

Seattle author David George Gordon would be more than happy to share his recipe for his three bee salad or cricket nymph risotto. Try the deep-fried tarantula, the bloomin’ onion of arachnids.

Gordon is known as “the bug chef,” and has written one of the more comprehensive cookbooks showcasing bugs and their kin. He is also a true believer in insects as a food source for an ever-hungrier planet, as laid out in a lengthy U.N. report last year.

Courtesy of Bob Wood.

Editor's Note: “Senior Thesis” is a special week-long series that brings together venerable veterans in various fields with university students hoping to forge a career in the same field.

Bob Wood and Carolyn Wortham sat opposite each other in the KPLU studio, separated by a generation during which a whole lot had happened.

Between the time that Dr. Wood took up arms against the AIDS epidemic and when Wortham took on the same fight, the illness has gone from mysterious killer to manageable condition. The battlefield had moved, to some extent, from urban gay neighborhoods to the developing world.


It’s a safe bet.  Sending cardboard boxes to poor countries will be the next big global child health initiative.

The use of cardboard boxes as child beds in Finland has persisted in popularity for nearly 75 years thanks to this government providing families with these boxed-up maternity packages. The parents are given the option to take 140 euros in cash or a box filled with baby needs. The package includes goodies such outdoor gear for the cold Finnish winters, bedding and diapers. 95% of families choose the box. Then they use it as a crib.

Some critics say that ending polio has become Bill Gates' "white whale."

Why not just settle for the huge drop in polio cases that we've seen over the past decade and then spend money on other things that kill so many more kids, like diarrhea and malnutrition?

"Polio is special," Gates tells NPR's Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. "Once you get it done, you save $2 billion a year that will be applied to those other activities. There's no better deal economically to getting to zero."

Delaney Ruston spent a lot of her early days as a physician working in clinics for the poor and disenfranchised, like Berkeley Free Clinic and, later, Seattle’s Pike Market Medial Clinic with a few of area’s leading and long-time health activists Les Pittle and Joe Martin.

“Early on, I kept wondering why we, the medical community, usually just communicated by giving talks and writing reports, said Delaney. Why, she wondered, did the medical community not make better use of video, especially as a form of physician-doctor communication, since it is so emotionally compelling, personal and we’re such visual animals?

Mike Urban / Humansophere

Malaria remains one of the world’s biggest killers and also a massive economic drag on poor countries, poor families.

One of our best weapons against this scourge is a drug known as artemisinin, which is harvested from the plant sweet wormwood and, as a crop, is about as predictable as corn or hog futures.

bnilsen / Flickr

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation thinks safe sex isn’t as much fun as it should be.

At least, that seems to be the gist of one request for a grant application from the world’s largest philanthropy as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations program. One of the goals for this round is to develop a better condom.

“It is a bit unusual,” said Stephen Ward, the program officer with the Gates Foundation administering the project.

Sometimes seeing data presented in the right way can change your entire view of the world. 

Bill Gates says that’s what happened to him 20 years ago, with global health:

“I was completely stunned by the burden of disease in poor countries, to see that diarrhea was killing literally millions of children, and that some of those causes of diarrhea, like rotavirus, were preventable," he said. "There was a vaccine available in rich countries, but ironically, not in poor countries."

Seattle Children's

The rocket attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens gets plenty of attention in Congress. But, not many have heard about a global health project Stevens left behind.

When Stevens was murdered last Sept. 11th in Benghazi, Libya, he had a meeting scheduled with a group of doctors the very next day, Sept. 12th. They're trying to setup Libya’s first modern 911 system.

Now, Stevens' sister, in Seattle, is bringing a higher profile to that unfinished project – helping a group from Boston that’s working with the Libyan doctors.